Justin O'Beirne

Justin O'Beirne of San Francisco, California. Essays, projects, and contact information.



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We’ve looked at both extremes—the most similar zoom and the most different zoom—but what’s the average? How often, on average, do Google Maps and Apple Maps label the exact same things?

For that, let’s take our table from earlier and average the percentages:

On average, Google Maps and Apple Maps label the same things only 24% of the time. In other words, the two maps have fewer than a quarter of their labels in common.

These truly are very different maps.

*   *   *

We saw earlier that these two z9 maps had four cities in common—but not much else:

Are there certain kinds of labels (such as cities) that the maps are more likely to have in common? 

Let’s take a quick look…

*   *   *

Similar to what we did with Place labels in Part 1, let’s divide everything labeled on the maps into a handful of categories.

We’ll use these seven:

  • Land & Water: Large areas of land (continents), small areas of land (islands), and any kind of water-related feature (oceans, lakes, rivers, bays, etc.). E.g., North America, Atlantic Ocean, San Francisco Bay, East River, Long Island.
  • Countries: Sovereign states and their dependencies. E.g., France, Spain, Canada, United States, United Kingdom.
  • Country Sub-Areas: Formal areas within countries, such as U.S. states, Canadian provinces, and U.K. constituent countries. E.g., California, Québec, Wales.
  • Cities. E.g., New York, San Francisco, London, Newark, Oakland, Reading.
  • City Sub-Areas: Formal and informal areas within cities, such as neighborhoods, districts, and boroughs. E.g., Brooklyn, Chinatown, Westminster, Chelsea, Fisherman’s Wharf, Midtown Manhattan. 
  • Roads. E.g., M1, Interstate 80, California State Highway 1.
  • Places. E.g., the Empire State Building, Patricia’s Green, Nelson’s Column.

Now that we have our categories, let’s take all of our map pairs…

…and count the labels that each pair has in common. 

We’ll do it like this for each pair:

Above, our z6 San Francisco map pair has 8 labels in common: 1 country sub-area (California) and 7 cities (ReddingRenoSacramentoSan FranciscoSan JoseFresno, and Bakersfield).

Let’s count the labels in common on our 53 other map pairs, tallying the totals for each zoom:

Next, let’s take these totals and divide them by the total number of labels per category on each zoom, and see what kind of percentages we get:

Notice that more than half of the percentages are less than 25% (the pink figures). Let’s calculate each category’s average (across all the zooms) and order the results from highest to lowest:

Out of all of the different kinds of labels on both maps, Google Maps and Apple Maps are most likely to label the same countries and least likely to label the same areas within cities (i.e., districts, boroughs, neighborhoods).

That said, all of the percentages are surprisingly low. For instance, Google and Apple have only 30% of their city labels in common and just 21% of their road labels. This means that the majority of the time, the maps are labeling different cities and roads from one another.

*   *   *

At just 7%, the areas within cities / city sub-area percentage is especially low. What’s more, of the 19 map pairs with city sub-area labels, 13 have none of their city sub-areas in common.

Here’s a good example of one of those 13 pairs — New York at z13:

Each map labels seven areas within New York City—but they’re completely different between the two maps.

Isn’t it interesting that the labels are so different?

*   *   *

Even the pair with the most city sub-areas in common—London at z12—shares only a fraction of its labels:

Together, the maps above label 28 unique areas within London — but have just 9 in common.

Ironically, the pair with the second highest number of city sub-areas in common is San Francisco at z13. (This is the zoom we looked at earlier—the one where the maps have very few labels in common.)

Remember this?

Apart from a few road labels, the area labels are the only labels that the maps have in common. And it’s not many, at that:

Together, the maps label 25 unique areas within San Francisco — but have just 6 in common. (And this was the map pair with the second most city sub-areas in common!)

San Francisco has many well-known areas and neighborhoods (Fisherman’s Wharf, Haight-Ashbury, North Beach, Union Square, etc.) — but perhaps its most famous of all is Chinatown.

📷 Chinatown, San Francisco | Photo by Justin O’Beirne

Yet even though Google and Apple label 25 distinct areas at this zoom, Chinatown isn’t one of them:

Surprising, isn’t it?

(Living in San Francisco, I’m asked for directions to Chinatown more often than any other area or place in the city. I was also surprised to learn that Chinatown draws more visitors annually than the Golden Gate Bridge.)

*   *   *

We saw above that Google Maps and Apple Maps have just 24% of their labels in common. (Fewer than 1 out of 4 labels!)

Why is the difference so large? And what could explain this?

Perhaps one map has significantly more labels? (If one map has more labels, the two maps wouldn’t have as many in common.)

Let’s see if there are differences in the label counts between the two maps…


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